Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Optimist

There is an old story about a little boy who runs out to the barn on the morning of his birthday, throwing open the doors only to find mountainous piles of manure. He grabs a shovel and begins plowing through the shit with glee. His father comes out and asks him what he’s so happy about.

The boy says, “Look at all this manure! There must be a pony in there somewhere!”

You see, that’s the story of the ultimate optimist. Not at all the way I’d describe myself – I mean, I see a pile of manure for what it is, but these days I’m trying to look at things differently… shoveling through the crap, looking for a pony.

Let’s just say it…This year has been a huge pile of manure. Aside from my own terrible tales, many of my friends are dealing with much greater problems: They’re out of work, losing their homes, have spouses battling cancer, custody battles for their kids, divorces, serious health issues, struggles for sobriety… I don’t know, maybe the planets are all out of whack, maybe Mercury is in retrograde, maybe that’s a bunch of crap and life is just random chaos or - maybe there is a benevolent God up there watching over us, smiling because this is all for a reason. (let’s hope…)

Things happened to my family this year that I could never have imagined, not in a million years. Here we are, nice, easy going peace-loving people, and we’ve been sued, threatened with physical violence, had to learn how to file restraining orders, rebuild a sewage system, went from paying off all our debt to maxing ourselves out with home disasters, and worst of all, lost a good friend to a cruel and untimely death.

But (I hear a muffled whinnying …) there have also been miracles. Miracles of friendships renewed, old friends, new friends. I launched my blog, I finished my book, I’ve been gifted wonderful opportunities, Troy has been blessed with steady work, both in the studio and on the road, our baby grandson was born healthy and gorgeous, and all three of our kids are thriving. What more could we ask for? Its just that it seems the blessings come right in the middle of the shitstorm, and it’s hard to separate them out sometimes. I mean, when you find the pony under there, it’s all covered in poop, and you know…it’s kinda hard to tell. Uh….a poop-covered pony? Wow …it’s just what I always…wanted…I guess. Kinda reminds me of when the pilgrims gave the Indians those pox-infested blankets. Gee…thanks, you white guys are swell. But in hindsight you can usually see the blessings for what they are. (Except in the case of those Indians…did not turn out well at all.)

Yesterday afternoon as I hiked with my kid and dogs, a welcome crisp Autumn breeze blew and I swear I could hear whinnying over the hills. (Well, I could, because my neighbors have horses, but still…) Change was in the air, and this time, I didn’t dread it.

Alright Summer, I said, you brought sewage and misery and death this year, and got your last punch in a few days ago, with your searing 110 degrees. But I’m through with you now. Fall is coming, and I’ve got a new attitude.

I made the decision in that moment - I’m hosing down those ponies, gussying them up, ready to take ‘em for a ride.

Who’s with me?

( I do realize that I couldn't actually ride this pony, because I'd crush him. But it sounded good in imagery.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Little Anniversary That Could...chug..chug...chug...

(not exactly Jamaica)

It started out the Worst. Vacation. Ever.

Oh Lord how we needed to get away and celebrate one another. How we needed to make the best of our 21st anniversary, after having to cancel our much anticipated trip to Jamaica (in lieu of a new septic system…..ahhhhh the romance.)

Just a jaunt down the coast to stay in a seaside hotel for three days, rest our weary souls after one of the worst Summers we can remember, and try to forget that we were supposed to be in Montego Bay right now. But no. Life was not going to let us have even this small respite. No, no. The morning we were scheduled to leave, our brand new $10,000 septic system failed again, sewage bubbling up into the yard like a cauldron from some underground hell. And on top of that, our greywater system was backing up, the pump motor shorting out. After my husband and his dad busted their butts to gerryrig it, we anxiously slipped away, crossing our fingers.

When we left the Valley, it was 111 degrees. ONE HUNDRED ELEVEN DEGREES. We packed three days worth of bathing suits, a few hats, sunscreen and headed for the ocean – a quick 45 minute trip up Pacific Coast Highway. When we got there, it was …WINTER! I kid you not. Freezing cold, cloudy with a bone-chilling wind. Well of course we arrived in shorts and flip flops, not at all prepared. So we headed for the local thrift store to buy sweaters and jackets.

(That's us with our thrift store bags full of sweaters and coats)

There we were, in our cozy cabana chairs on the beach, sipping rum drinks…wearing winter jackets laying under blankets. Not exactly Jamaica but hey, the hotel was playing Reggae music so at least we had that. Or was that just life taunting us? All the while, my teeth chattering, we’re having these conversations: How could the septic system be failing? How many times a month do you think our family flushes the toilet, and how many flushes would it take to overflow the system? Pretty sexy anniversary so far….

The next day (our actual anniversary) we got a call from Troy’s parents who were staying in our home with Evan. In the middle of a record breaking heatwave… guess what? Our air conditioning went kaput. Here we are freezing on the beach, while our kids, Troy’s parents, our grandbaby and our pets are in a terrible, possibly dangerous, situation. A hurricane wind kicked up threatening our beach cabana, blowing the novel I was trying to read right out of my hands. We went back to our room, spending the rest of the day on the phone trying to reach our plumber, the air conditioning guy, neighbors etc…Both of us stressed, our stomachs in knots, just pacing the room. What to do? Nothing we could do but wait to hear back from the air conditioning guy and hope for the best. I suggested in the meantime we go to a funny movie to relieve the stress, and try to salvage what we could of our anniversary. So we went to see “Dinner for Schmucks” and all I can say is wow – did we ever feel like a couple of schmucks for paying to see that horrid, awful, unfunny movie. Let me re-emphasize…HORRID! And Troy had to leave to answer phone calls in the middle of it- his parents calling to say it was over 100 degrees in our house AT NIGHT, they were taking Evan and leaving.

When the movie let out (mercifully), we shuffled down the street for a late anniversary dinner, a cozy romantic candlelit place which just the night before had a jazz artist who looked and sang like Isaac Hayes. We were seated at a lovely booth with candles and pillows, low lighting….ahhhhh, perfect. We were going to salvage the last two hours of this day. We held hands across the table and sighed. Troy shook his head.

I know it’s been a rough couple days, honey, but…

Just then the walls of our cozy booth shook as the loudest, worst surf band we ever heard started to blare, the lead guitar resembling something between a dentist drill and an air raid siren.

WHAT? I yelled.

I LOVE YOU. He screamed.


We both started to laugh.



My stomach was so wrenched from all the anxiety that day that I couldn’t even eat. I had a dinner salad and a glass of wine, topped off with a couple TUMS. And that was our anniversary. The End. NOT. Because at 3:30 in the morning, our son Taylor called us saying there was a strange grinding electrical noise coming from behind the house. AWESOME! So Troy spent a half hour on the phone with him trouble shooting. And then of course neither of us could sleep at all.

By the next morning, we were bleary eyed, exhausted, stressed, miserable, sleep deprived. I lied there, dark circles under my eyes, staring at the ceiling thinking WTF? I looked over at my husband. He looked so beat down and sad it broke my heart, and that’s when I decided that dammit, we are not giving up!

I looked at him and said, “ I don’t care how hard life is kicking our asses this year. I am celebrating. You know why? Because I love you. Because you have stood beside me and this family, busting your ass to take care of us for twenty one years. Because I am so proud of all that we have withstood together; (Births, deaths, weddings, funerals, divorces, great successes, terrible failures, joys, depression, raising three kids, emergency rooms, birthing classes, packing lunches for school, packing kids for college, you name it…a lot happens in 21 years). We’ve weathered storms worse than this. We’ve lived through our home burning down, bankruptcy, betrayals by people we believed in, but through it all we stood strong by each other, and we still are. And we always will. So let’s party! You with me?”


After that, things started to turn around. Our repair guy fixed the air conditioning – and get this, it cost us sixty dollars. Both the sewage leak and the strange electrical grinding noise mysteriously stopped, at least for the time being, and we put it all out of our minds to concentrate on each other.

The last day of our getaway was spent freezing our asses off while having spicy fish tacos and beers on the beach, as we toasted our endurance. We went and saw a good movie, explored new beaches, hiked, walked, talked about our dreams, hit a few happy hours. Topped the night off with spicy curry, great music, good wine, and lots of laughs. So take that, LIFE!

What we learned from our trip is that we need the time to celebrate what it is to be a couple, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer. And although our savings account may beg to differ, we felt pretty damn rich this weekend.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Identity Crisis

Help! I woke up this morning and don’t know who I am. This is something that has been puzzling me for quite some time. I’m only talking about my name, right now anyway.
I’ve just finished my book, plus a few essays and what not, and I’m starting to put my work out into the big wide world, but I have a dilemma. Do I go by the name that’s on my birth cerificate – Hollye Fisher? That’s the name my mother told me I must never tell anyone about nor admit to (since my father was in prison) but I want to finally say it out loud and proud. I mean, it’s the real me. I think? One of the many things I hate about being a girl (and that’s an issue I’ll save for another blog) is that we just drift from one man's family name to another, with no true roots as to who we are. My mother had her father’s name, I had my father’s name, then my stepfather’s name, then my first husbands’ name, now my husband’s name which is his father’s name….AAAAAAGH….who am I? I mean, who am I really? I find the whole marital, name-taking thing really odd. I remember the first time I started getting cards addressed to Mrs. Troy Dexter. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I had become chattle, like some Victorian woman destined to a life of needlepoint and etiquette lessons. So why did I take that name? I’m not a Dexter. I’m a Fisher. But take that theory a step further, why only my fathers name? I mean, my maternal grandmother was a Kindred. I came from two people, a blending of two family lines…so WHO AM I?
I talked to my husband about it. I said, maybe its not about who I am, because look at all the family names involved in the making of each of us. Maybe it’s more about….who do I WANT to be?
And he said, “Oh go ahead. Be Hollye Baldwin.”
Of course I cracked up. Yes, I am innocently obsessed with Alec Baldwin, but there is no one I’m more obsessed with than Troy, and I love being his partner for life. And he loves me absolutely, but that doesn’t mean he carries my name (whatever my name is). So why do we, as women, have to keep changing who we are, dropping our own identity and heritage in lieu of our husbands and fathers?
And more importantly, WHO AM I? I have to put a book out, and those people expect you to have a name. Ugh!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Risky Business

I spent a lot of time in my younger years being strong, not needing anyone, holding it all together on my own. It was only when I started falling apart and there was a crack in my shiny fabricated veneer that the light was finally able to get through. Time and again life kicked my ass, I waved the white flag in surrender, and suddenly on the horizon…an angel appeared in the form of a friend. I’m talking a real friend, someone who wasn’t put off by the fact that my life was messy, that I was weak, vulnerable, scared. When I think about it, all of my closest lifetime friends, including my husband, showed up when I was in a dark valley of my life. Each of them took a risk on me. And I risked my battle-weary, Humpty-Dumpty heart.
And that’s what I want to talk about today. Taking risks is good for your heart, even the Surgeon General says so. Okay he didn't say it, I made it up (creative license) but I'm pretty sure about it. If I could put a warning on the side of life's package, it would say: Loving someone is a risky business, but the payout is beyond your wildest imaginings.
Here’s a little story to illustrate my point…
Early this year I took a risk by admitting my fears on a writing website. I said that as a co-dependant it terrified me what my family would think if I actually completed this memoir. I feared that telling the truth would ruin me. I dared say out loud what I had been fearing privately for years, a fear that had been holding my creativity back.
A stranger responded:
“Never, ever, ever give up. Write your story. Tell the truth. Be brilliant, be bold, be brave. Fuck ‘em. Something amazing will happen. Love, Amy Ferris”
I was intrigued. First of all, that this woman would give so much support to someone she had never met, and second, that she wrote “love, Amy Ferris’. How incredible (how risky!), I thought, to just put your heart out there so fearlessly to a complete stranger. (It made me think of all the countless hours I’d spent struggling with how to sign off on emails, letters, cards…. And finally settling for “Best, Hollye Dexter”)
But it was because we each risked something, and continue to do so, that our friendship blossomed. Actually it more than blossomed – it exploded.
I could have been more cautious, jaded even. Hell, I’ve been burned, I mean to the third degree, by former friends. One friend bankrupted me. Another tried to sue me. Another did everything she could to steal my job. Over the years I’ve been judged, backstabbed, screamed at, bitched out, left behind, abandoned….all by people I loved and called my friends. But I keep putting my heart out there. You know why? Because its worth it. Because loving someone and walking beside them on this life journey is such a privilige. Through the years I’ve learned that friendship is messy. Sometimes you have to walk away, sometimes it’s absolutely worth fighting for. And yes, with each new person I meet, there is risk that I may get hurt again, but guess what - I will live.
I have no regrets over relationships gone bad. Life is richer when you learn to shovel through the manure of your painful life experiences and use it to make your garden grow.
Today I am in deep gratitude , and want to say thank you, I mean big time THANK YOU, to Amy who risked her heart in reaching out to me, with all my imperfections and needs and crises, seeing right through it to the best part of me. You were right Amy, something amazing did happen.
And thank you to Kristine, and to Erin, Dani, Joy, Kelly, Cindy, Richard, Diane, Beverlee, Beth and my ohmygod my amazing angelic facebook posse and writer friends… Thank you all for having faith in me when I didn’t. Thank you for loving me when I felt unlovable. Thank you for seeing things in me that I couldn’t. And most of all, thank you for risking your heart.
Wow oh wow am I glad you did.
Hollye Dexter

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bigfoot's Cousin

Once upon a time Cavemen roamed the Earth. The first known human was the Neanderthal. But as the story goes, one day he evolved into the newer slicker model of human, Cro Magnon, and supposedly the Neanderthals all just…*poof*… disappeared. Or did they?
Now mentally, the Neanderthal was one enchilada short of a combo plate, if you know what I mean, and operated solely out of fear. When he encountered something he couldn’t understand with his little lizard brain (which was most everything), he feared it. Then he usually clubbed it to death.
But Cro Magnum- well he seemed to be capable of rational thought and problem solving. He learned how to use fire, and make tools. He learned how to build a peaceful society. Why you might even have called him a “Community Organizer”.
Some say the Neanderthal died out when ‘ole Cro Magnon came along, but….I’m not so sure. I have a personal belief that descendants of both still walk the earth. And I’m not talking about Bigfoot, I’m talking about everyday people who walk among us. Recently Science Journal revealed that many of us still carry traces of the Neanderthal in our DNA. Proof that my theory is correct, thank you very much!
You may be wondering - how can you tell when you’ve been in contact with a descendant of the Neanderthal tribe? Ask yourself, is this a person who operates solely out of fear, and then tries to destroy what he fears? If so, congratulations – you’ve just met Bigfoot’s cousin!
So keep your eyes open folks! Exciting discoveries are to be made everywhere you look. You don’t even need to carry binoculars or travel to far away places. Just look where fear and hate abide.
**Here are a few places sightings might take place, so have your camera ready!
Tea Party Rallies
E Entertainment
Wall Street
The Dr. Laura Radio Show
Religious organizations who profess hate (especially those run by oppressed homosexual men!)
Be sure to let me know if there are other places you’ve seen Bigfoot’s cousin!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rest. Stop.

(...and these are just the books that won't fit on my bookshelves.)

For two days I’ve been trying to write a blog, and all I’ve ended up with are pages of jumbled messy paragraphs. If I posted them, you would definitely think I was on drugs. For some reason, my synapses aren’t firing, and that scares me a little. I come up with ideas and sentences, but none of them fit together. I actually started to panic today…I got all sweaty and my chest was tight. But then I read this great article by Martha Beck about getting through the “valleys” of your life by settling into them. Let me quote her here:
Humans are the only creatures in nature that resist the ebb and flow. We want the sun to shine all night, and when it doesn’t, we create cities that never sleep. But natural ebbs – the darkness between days, the emptiness between fill-ups, the fallow time between growing seasons- are necessary compliments of upbeats. They hold a message for us. It’s just one simple blessed word. Rest.
She goes on to say sometimes life knocks you down because you need to rest, so rest like you mean it. Apparently I’m needing a day or two of rest from writing and editing. This well has run dry, and I’m waiting for rain. In the mean time, I’m going to cuddle up with some Chardonnay and a good book.
The above photo is my bedside table, and you know what’s so cool about it? Most of the books there were written by my friends! And all those friends got through their dry spells, their fears and insecurities all the way to the finished book. How inspiring is that? So thank you friends….I’m going to let you carry me for a few days. I’m going to delve into your stories and imaginations and drift away….and REST.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Truth Whisperer

My husband and I have a nickname for our friend Erin. We call her the “Anger Handler”. If Erin is your friend and someone has ever done something to hurt you, all you need do is tell her the grievous nature of this attack, and then let go. When I do this with her, she gets ten times angrier that I’d ever allow myself to be, ranting and raving about this horrible person and all the ways she should meet her doom. The funny thing is it polarizes me. Erin is so angry at said perpetrator, there isn’t any room, nor need, for me to be angry. My husband Troy and I joke about how we want to make some popcorn, sit back and watch Erin “handle” our anger for us, now and then commenting…”Yeah, yeah, that’s a good one. I should have said that. What else you got?” As if suddenly we are voyeurs into our own crisis. She could do a stand up act. Just let the audience members throw any story at her of how they were done wrong, and then let her at it. I’m telling you, it would sell out! Everyone could use an anger handler!
In my own way, I guess that’s what I’m trying to do with truth. We’ve had a lot of dramarama in our lives the past six months, and my husband doesn’t really want to talk to people about it. He’s really kind of embarrassed by it. But me? I hang my dirty laundry out on the line for the whole world to see. Call it a strange obsession, a birth defect maybe. I don’t know. I was born to tell it like it is. I give voice to some dark things. I’m learning through the comments and feedback I get that these are things others might feel, but never say out loud. So I do it for them, much to the chagrin of my husband. I’m in training to be a “Truth Whisperer”. I’ll say the scary ugly stuff you don’t want to say…and you can go make some popcorn. : )
People have commented how brave I am to tell the truth, how hard that must be. But here’s the secret - it’s actually easy. What’s hard is trying to project an image that I have it all together, that I’m not insecure, neurotic, damaged, confused, afraid. It is unbelievably liberating to tell the truth.
So here are a few “truths” for today:
I’m forty six years old.
I’m terrified of aging.
I doubt myself as a parent.
I often feel like a failure.
I worry in the middle of the night, which leads to pacing the house “checking” things…windows, doors, electrical outlets
I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression all throughout my life.
I’m vain.
I’ve been estranged from my mother’s side of the family for seven years, which feels like a colossal failure
I’m cynical and jaded but want to get back to hopeful
I watch reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond.
There, I’ve said it.
(Can I get a witness on any of the above?)
And you know what happens after I release it? I am lighter. I think to myself…yeah so I’m damaged and imperfect….so what. It’s really not that big a deal. I’ve gotten the scary stuff out and made room inside to feel all the good things that want to occupy space in my heart instead. Love, gratitude, joy….
So this is my mission: to be a Truth Whisperer and encourage others to do the same. I’m telling you, it’s not that bad once you get used to it, so jump in – the water’s fine!
Come on…I double dog dare ya!